You guys, this is big: we made it to Friday. No, seriously. It’s February now, which is that weird month of the year where winter is getting really, really old, but spring isn’t really around the corner yet, and the task of getting myself out of bed in the morning and on my way to work frequently seems insurmountable. So making it to the end of a week is a big deal.
You know what else is a big deal? This:
In case you were wondering what the heck that is, it’s the Grand Canyon. Here it is again:
“Damn!” you might say, “That’s a pretty sweet canyon!!” Yes, the Grand Canyon is in fact, rather grand. I supposedly visited it when I was a child, although this is something of a point of contention with my parents. I frequently insist to them that they never took me out west when I was growing up; they like to remind me that we drove across the country from California to Virgina and hit virtually every National Park that we could manage along the way, including Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and the Smokies. Apparently it’s my fault that I was two and asleep for most of it, so now, I get to figure out a way to get back myself.
When I do, though, it’s a good thing that I’m one of those loonies who has a reusable water bottle permanently glued to my hand and another one in my bag at all times. (Side note: seriously, if you got to write a blog post about the Grand Canyon, you would ALSO include a photo every three words because….it’s the Grand Canyon. Come on.)
ANYWAY. Enough pictures, and on to the meat of this post. This week, Grand Canyon National Park announced plans to ban the sale of all disposable water bottles within the park limits. Apparently plastic water bottles bought within the park account for 20% of all litter that makes the park less grand for hiking, since nobody wants to look out over the majestic scenery of our country and see a whole mess of old plastic bottles.
Supposedly, the folks at Coca Cola and other major corporations that manufacture bottled water were pretty upset about this decision, since it will mean the loss of a major sales opportunity for them. But, supporters of the decision say the tighter restrictions on plastics are necessary due to the amount of pollution and waste created by plastics every year. They see the ban as a step in the right direction towards lowering the amount of waste that tourism generates in our national parks – and generally moving away from our ‘disposable’ culture where we prefer to buy, use, and toss rather than creatively finding a way to limit our own consumption of materials and re-use or recycle things.
Meanwhile, if you were concerned about what to do if you forget to bring your own water bottle, never fear! The Park will be selling re-usable bottles for the (very affordable) price of $1.99 that can be easily filled at water fountains within the park limits – eliminating safety and creature-comfort concerns about people hiking without water.
Of course, there are a slew of other questions surrounding this decision – which seems to be creating a lot of flap for something that may or may not have a real bottom-line impact. What about the other 80% of the waste in the park that doesn’t come from plastic bottles? And what’s to stop people from bringing in their own disposable water bottle and still dropping it or leaving it within the park boundaries? Finally, the energy and materials that it takes to make a reusable bottle are significantly higher than those for disposable bottles – which is totally O.K. if you do plan to re-use it many times, but ends up being even more of a waste generator if people just toss those when they get home.
The unfortunate bottom line is that regulation probably isn’t going to change overnight how people treat our National Parks and the amount of abuse they endure from tourism and negligence – with the most famous and beloved parks such as the Grand Canyon often getting the brunt of it. Really caring for our national park land is less about restrictions and more about a culture of respect. But, what this new measure might accomplish is less about an actual reduction in the amount of waste and more about publicity. If rules like this can raise awareness about the true impact of a “disposable” culture and the waste it generates, change might be one step closer. It’s one thing when you’re told in the abstract that plastic waste builds up in landfills, but maybe when people realize it is impacting something as symbolic as the Grand Canyon, they will stop and think.
Hey, it’s Friday, and I’m in a good mood, so at least we can hope – right?
You can read more about the ban, and how it came about here or here. Either that or you can just spend your Friday afternoon checking your email and wondering how much spinach it would take to fill the Grand Canyon. Hint: the answer is ‘a lot.’